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Two culinary experiements: French toast for aristocrats (left) and commoners.

Two culinary experiments: French toast for aristocrats (left) and commoners.

The assignment: Participate in a blog hop combining history, food, and writing. How could I possibly say no to an invitation from Ginger Myrick, author of Work of Art: Love and Murder in 19th Century New York and other books?

Here is how the Tasty Summer Reads Blog Hop works: Each author invites up to five other authors to answer five questions about their current summer release or WIP (work in progress for the acronym impaired) and post a tasty recipe that ties into it (links to prior posts below). I have invited Jessica Knauss, author of The Seven Knights of Lara, and Susan Spann, author of Claws of the Cat, to join in the hop, and they should have their recipes up soon, so just click on their names to see what they’re serving up.

First, a little about my current release: The Cross and the Dragon, a tale of love amid the wars and blood feuds of Charlemagne’s reign.

Francia, 778: Alda has never forgotten Ganelon’s vow of vengeance when she married his rival, Hruodland. Yet the jilted suitor’s malice is nothing compared to Alda’s premonition of disaster for her beloved, battle-scarred husband.

Although the army invading Hispania is the largest ever and King Charles has never lost a war, Alda cannot shake her anxiety. Determined to keep Hruodland from harm, even if it exposes her to danger, Alda gives him a charmed dragon amulet.

Is its magic enough to keep Alda’s worst fears from coming true—and protect her from Ganelon?

Now for the Random Tasty Questions:

1) When writing, are you a snacker? If so sweet or salty?

Before I go to my computer, I snack on yogurt or cheese. My cats will sometimes want lap time when I’m writing, and I don’t want to share food with them. However, I often have a beverage nearby, either coffee in the morning and early afternoon, dark beer at night.

2) Are you an outliner or someone who writes by the seat of their pants? And are they real pants or jammies?

My first two novels, The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, were by the seat of my pants (real ones). I get stuck on outlines. However, the historical events concerning Queen Fastrada, the subject of my third novel (very rough draft stage), provided more structure than I’m accustomed to.

3) When cooking, do you follow a recipe or do you wing it?

After graduating from college and in the early years of my marriage, I would consult The Joy of Cooking and 60-Minute Gourmet, both great for learning the basics. Even then, I would improvise. Many years later (never you mind how many), I wing it for familiar dishes or consult recipes mainly to get general concepts for new things. I rarely even measure anymore.

4) What is next for you after this book?

The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is a tale about the lengths a mother will go to protect her children, is a companion to The Cross and the Dragon. Here is the latest version of the blurb.

Can a mother’s love triumph over war?

Charlemagne’s 772 battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her husband died in combat. Her faith lies in the ashes of the Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. And the relatives obligated to defend her and her family sold them into slavery, stealing their farm.

Taken in Francia, Leova will stop at nothing to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her honor and her safety. Her determination only grows stronger as Sunwynn blossoms into a beautiful young woman attracting the lust of a cruel master and Deorlaf becomes a headstrong man willing to brave starvation and demons to free his family.

Yet Leova’s most difficult dilemma comes in the form of a Frankish friend, Hugh. He saves Deorlaf from a fanatical Saxon Christian and is Sunwynn’s champion—and he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband.

5) Last question…on a level of one being slightly naughty and ten being whoo hoo steamy, how would you rate your book?

I’d give the heat level of The Cross and the Dragon a three. There is sex, but we fade to black. There is also an attempted rape, which was necessary for the plot.

And now for the really tasty part: Post your recipe.

There are no surviving recipes from eighth-century Francia. Not a surprise when you remember that most of the population, including cooks, was illiterate. But we know what food the folk grew and could gather in the forest, and we can make some guesses. I was thinking about what people would have on hand at the height of the summer. Peasants would be letting their animals fatten up in the pastures, so meat would be scarce. But they would have eggs and milk.

Two versions of the same dish, French toast, with the one gracing an aristocratic table on the left.

Two versions of the same dish, French toast, with the one gracing an aristocratic table on the left.

So how about what we call French toast? I checked out one of my favorite sites, foodtimeline.org, and found out that recipes for French toast date back to the Romans and would grace aristocratic tables.

The ingredients would be different. Peasants would have bread made from rye or barley, while aristocrats ate white bread made of wheat flour. Commoners could use fresh herbs in their gardens such as thyme, parsley, dill, or tarragon, but aristocrats could afford imported spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.

Even the cooking fat might be different. Aristocrats slaughtered their livestock sooner, so they could have lard on hand in addition to butter at this time of year. Peasants would use butter.

So here are two variants of the same recipe.

French Toast (Aristocratic Style)

White French bread, 3 thick slices
2 eggs
3/8 cup milk
1/8-1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 T. butter for cooking

1) Put bread on cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees about 10 minutes to dry it out. (Note to the Anachronism Police: Medieval cooks would’ve done this over a fire, but my oven is electric. And I’m not giving up my nonstick pans and dishwasher either.)

2) Beat the eggs and mix with milk, add the spices

3) Soak the slices in the mixture

4) Place slices in skillet; if you’re so inclined, pour leftover egg-milk mix over slices

5) Fry in butter until a golden brown

6) Serve with honey

French Toast (Peasant Style)

Rye bread, 3 slices
2 eggs
3/8 cup milk
1 tsp. fresh herb such as thyme, parsley, tarragon, or dill
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 T. butter for cooking

1) Put bread on cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees about 10 minutes to dry it out. (See note to Anachronism Police above.)

2) Beat the eggs and mix with milk, add the herbs

3) Soak the slices in the mixture

4) Heat pan, melt the butter, add the garlic and cook until softened, about 10 seconds (less if the pan is really hot)

5) Place slices in skillet; if you’re so inclined, pour leftover egg-milk mix over slices

6) Fry slices in butter until a golden brown, and it’s ready to serve with salt

Check What These Authors Are Serving at the Tasty Summer Blog Hop

Christy English
Donna Russo Morin
Nancy Goodman
Lauren Gilbert
Lucinda Brant
Prue Batten
Anna Belfrage
Ginger Myrick
Jo Ann Butler
Kim Rendfeld (You are here)
Cora Lee
Jessica Knauss
Susan Spann